Gaither: young special teamers still learning

Omar Gaither said the young players on special teams are still learning. (Photo by Thomas E. Smith)

When the Eagles kicked off to open Sunday's game in San Francisco, the 10 men running down to stop Ted Ginn were Omar Gaither, Eldra Buckley, Moise Fokou, Kurt Coleman, Dimitri Patterson, Jamar Chaney, Akeem Jordan, Owen Schmitt, Trevard Lindley and Mike Bell.

A few things stand out: that's four linebackers and three power running backs. There were just three players from typical speed positions -- the three defensive backs -- and no wide receivers. So perhaps this group doesn't have as much overall speed as others.

Also, that's three rookies out of the 10 cover men. Later in the game, on Ginn's final return which put the 49ers in position for another touchdown, rookie Jorrick Calvin covered the kick in place of Schmitt, adding another rookie to the mix.

The youth is one possible explanation for some of the long kick returns the Eagles have allowed this year, one that Omar Gaither lent some credence to today.

Gaither, the most veteran member of the coverage team, said kick returns leave much room for error, and that the young group is still learning.

"With the kick off, it's just so fast and there's so much room," Gaither said, pointing out that cover men run some 60 yards before they are in position to make a play. "There's more room for error. One wrong step here, one wrong step there and it'll kill you, that's what guys have to learn."

How do they do that?

"Just having guys that have done it for a long time. There's no better teacher than experience. Guys are getting experience, on the job training," he said.

The Eagles have a youthful group, with 14 on the 53-man roster. That means when the team looks to the bottom of the roster for special teamers, they almost have to play rookies.

"You generally have younger guys on teams, but not across the board," Gaither said. "So, we're young. There's really no way around that, but we're getting better and better every week and that's what really counts, the progress."

Head coach Andy Reid hinted at the issue Wednesday when asked about the Eagles kick coverage. He noted that effort isn't a problem, but discipline -- everyone sticking to their assignments -- might be.

"We've got some young guys in there playing and they're anxious to make plays. We've got to go back and just make sure we keep repping it and getting them real disciplined in those areas," Reid said.